Friday, September 12, 2008

A final note on homeless and panhandling

A GSU professor has an op-ed in the AJC regarding the city's new panhandling initiative. He uses a failed 1986 CAP initiative to say that "tough love" doesn't work with panhandlers:
In 1986, CAP recommended the creation of a “safeguard zone” along the Peachtree Street corridor, where police would be authorized to move aggressively against violators of “quality-of-life” ordinances against panhandling, public intoxication, loitering, and so on. The proposal put “vagrants” at the top of the undesirable list.

According to press reports, CAP also discussed the desirability of issuing special ID cards to homeless persons, imposing mandatory alcoholism treatment for chronic offenders, and incarcerating incorrigible vagrants in the city’s prison farm.

While these extreme measures did not become part of the final recommendations, they alarmed many Atlantans. In the face of opposition by the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, Open Door Community, ACLU, and local churches and synagogues, Mayor Andrew Young felt compelled to distance himself from CAP’s safeguard zone. The proposal was shelved.
Isn't the lesson here precisely that we haven't really tried tough love? We didn't institute these ideas, and the situation has continued to get worse. The prof finishes with:
Simplicity notwithstanding, tough love will not get us very far in comprehending either the problem or the solution. By encouraging us to see panhandling and homelessness in terms of individual acts of charity, and by ignoring the structural factors at the root of the problem, it also keeps us from seeing Woodruff Park for what it really is: the public stage on which our nation’s most ferocious inequalities come out of the darkness and into the light.
But, the city's plan isn't to encourage people to see panhandlers as individual acts of charity. People who see panhandlers as "individual acts of charity" would be likely to give them money, right? "That's my little part to be of service to him," I imagine they think. The city's initiative is saying that we need to deal with the underlying issues, through organizations like the Gateway Center which have a good track record at job training and helping people obtain self sufficiency.

Let's talk about the structural issues, absolutely. Let's talk about our failed War on Drugs TM, about our education policy, about poverty in this country. Let's talk about how health care costs drive people into bankruptcy and foreclosure. Let's talk about how many homeless are mentally unstable, and about our responsibility to them. All of these are challenges must meet as a society, and a commitment to finding solutions to them is one reason why I am proud to be a Democrat.

But let's not ignore the fact that many of the panhandlers downtown are either drug addicts or not actually homeless. Addicts deserve our prayers, and (yes) tough love. I have little sympathy for non-homeless panhandlers, as they are making it that much harder for actual homeless folks to get help.

The structural issues in this country do not give panhandlers the right to harass, threaten, and harm people. They do not require us to sit back and watch what should be the crown jewel of the Southeast get turned into a shelter and a drug trap.

1 comment:

  1. Does anyone else watch "Intervention" on A&E? It's ALL ABOUT the tough love... It's the only way changes can be made.

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